Ashton given month's ban for hair-pulling act

England wing told by chief disciplinary officer that he 'sparked mass brawl' and misses two key Heineken Cup ties with Castres

The England wing Chris Ashton, no stranger to controversy over the last few months, was the big loser yesterday following a mass trial of those involved in the punch-up that enlivened last
weekend's Premiership derby between the East Midlands rivals Leicester and Northampton at Welford Road. Ashton sparked the incident by dragging his direct opponent, Alesana Tuilagi, into touch by the hair – a highly visible offence, given the extravagant nature of the Samoan's coiffure – and was banned for a month.

Ashton will miss Northampton's back-to-back Heineken Cup meetings with the high-flying French club Castres – games they must win to retain a realistic hope of making the knockout phase of the tournament – plus important Premiership games against Bath and Newcastle over the Christmas period. Tuilagi, who was sent off for his contribution to the free for all, escaped further punishment; the Rugby Football Union's chief disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett deeming the red card to have been a sufficient penalty.

A second Northampton international, the England captaincy contender Tom Wood, also appeared before the judge, having been dismissed along with Tuilagi. He too was spared further grief and can continue playing. So can a fistful of other participants in the fun and games: the Leicester backs Geordan Murphy and Horacio Agulla, and the Northampton Test forward Courtney Lawes. They were effectively given a retrospective yellow card and granted permission to carry on regardless.

Having denied the charge, Ashton was told in no uncertain terms that his behaviour had been unacceptable. "We accept that this started by accident, but it became clear that at some stage Ashton knew what he was doing," Blackett concluded. "If you pull somebody by the hair there is an element of denigration and this act was a catalyst for a mass brawl that ... significantly affected the image of the game."

Ahead of the hearings, the Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill had made his views known in typically frank and forthright style. "Our game with Northampton was a classic – a great contest and a great advert for rugby," he pronounced, leading the charge against the latest outbreak of sanctimonious claptrap to plague a sport that has taken pretty much all the piety it can bear just recently. "You get guys coming from all over the world to play in these matches because they want to experience these occasions.

"Yes, we saw some fisticuffs, but we can't sanitise the game too much by pulling guys off the field when their crimes are far from horrendous. Rugby is a physical sport, and the people who play it are physical. Human nature dictates there are quiet sorts and aggressive sorts. If you're aggressive, the sporting arena is about the only place it can come out. Occasionally, there will be flashpoints. The players know they can't throw cheap shots – they know they can't go around gouging and the suchlike. But the odd bit of sparring? That's not going to hurt anyone, is it?

"Take the emotion out of the contest, and the contest is the poorer for it. I'm not saying fighting is right, but you can understand it in the heat of battle – and there wasn't one person watching at Welford Road on Saturday, or on the television come to that, who didn't want to see what was going on. No one said 'Ooh, there's a fight', and looked away.

"I took my son to his Under-9s game on Sunday morning and everyone was talking about what a great game they'd watched the day before. And they were right. What a game! What a spectacle! I don't want to see horrendous violence on the field but there is some beauty in the aggression we see in a game of rugby."

Cockerill argued – rightly as it turned out – that Tuilagi had no case to answer. He was not, however, best pleased with the Samoan's younger brother Manu, who missed the game yet still threatened to involve himself from his seat in the dugout. "Manu warmed up with the team but I was unaware that he sat in the dugout," said Cockerill, who watches games at Welford Road from an elevated position in the stand. "He ran down the touchline. He didn't do anything, but he shouldn't have run towards the incident and he won't be doing it again. I've spoken to the whole squad about discipline, because we don't want people being banned. But it's a double-edged sword. You want players to be physical and committed, but..."

He added that Manu Tuilagi, so-called "star" of the England ferry-jumping escapade in Auckland at the end of a World Cup campaign that had already been badly sullied by off-field misbehaviour, would be fit to face Clermont Auvergne in this weekend's big Heineken Cup tie at Stade Marcel Michelin. "He'll give us some options and he's likely to start, because he's pretty good," he said. "But we have Billy Twelvetrees and Matt Smith playing well too. Who starts, and who comes off the bench? It's a great headache to have. I've spent most of the season trying to find centres. This weekend, I'll have three."

In the first of yesterday's hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Northampton flanker Phil Dowson admitted inflicting an illegal tackle on the Saracens full-back Alex Goode 11 days ago and was suspended for a fortnight.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital